by T. Berry Brazelton   Reviewed by Janet Levine | Released: April 29, 2013   Publisher: Da Capo Press (256 pages)
Review published in New York Journal of Books

0738216674.01._PC_SCLZZZZZZZ_“Such is the importance of Dr. Brazelton’s work that this sensitive memoir fills a gap as to the theoretical and practical roots of contemporary child raising practice.”

I was a Dr. Spock baby.

My mother cared for me “by the book” the famous Baby and Child Care. She proudly gave me her much used copy when my first child was born. I paged through it with growing bemusement (Spock’s methodology was contrary to everything I wanted to be as a mother) because I had already prepped myself on Dr. Brazelton’s Infant and Mothers and What Every Baby Knows.

These books, in setting out Dr. Brazelton’s observations and advice, debunked much of Spock’s regimen. In preparation for writing this review I took a sampling of younger mothers (those mainly in their thirties), some had heard of Dr. Brazelton but many now utilized and relied on other childcare gurus.

Such is the importance of Dr. Brazelton’s work that this sensitive memoir fills a gap as to the theoretical and practical roots of contemporary child raising practice.

Learning to Listen is a timely reminder (on Brazelton’s 95th birthday) of his huge contribution to child rearing.

Dr. Brazelton details and pays tribute to the many colleagues he listened to and cooperated with and to whom he owes a debt for the theory and practice he then shared with hundreds of pediatricians and scores of thousands of patients.

Most importantly Dr. Brazelton listened, observed and learned from babies.

Newborns have a special place in his heart and the chapter on “Discovering the Power of Newborns” rivets attention, especially the section on how the Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale (NBAS) was developed from the work of Heinz Prechtl.

Prechtl identified six states of neonatal consciousness (deep sleep, light sleep, an indeterminate state, wide awake, fussing, and crying). As Dr. Brazelton writes “these states were the matrix on which different kinds of newborns’ responses depended. Unless one respected the state of the baby, you couldn’t get a reliable response.”

The scale became know as the Brazelton scale. It is fundamental to Brazelton’s understanding of how to give parents insight into their baby.

In other sections Dr. Brazelton writes of the development of his widely (and wildly) influential four point, Touchpoints model, positing in child rearing instead of a stimuli-response model the family becomes a system in which each member is in balance with the other members. He also explains his advocacy for children on the national political stage during the years of the Clinton administration’s foray into the health care debate.

The opening chapters lay a strong foundation for understanding the influences on Dr. Brazelton’s life. They relate his childhood in Waco, Texas, his college experience at Princeton, and the early days of his medical training and residencies in Boston—a compassionate glimpse at the young boy and man who became such an internationally trusted pediatrician.

He unsparingly denotes his emotional struggles with his father and younger brother juxtaposed with his love for his mother, as well as for an older black woman, Annie May, his nanny.

At Princeton he shone both academically and as a theatrical performer and even considered Broadway as a career path. But he chose medicine. The Second World War interrupted his medical internship in Boston (where he confesses he did not learn much sitting in lectures without any hands on training.) He served as a doctor on a DE (a small ship used as Destroyer Escorts.)

Later, gradually, he found his place in the thriving Boston medical universe and began to be noticed by leaders in the field of pediatrics.

A singular contribution to the memoir is Dr. Brazelton’s account of his research with newborns in other cultures. For years he asked many questions of himself as to similarities and differences in newborns in various cultures—genes, nutrition, experiences in utero, and delivery.

Availing himself of any opportunity, over decades he visited and worked with babies and parents in Southern Mexico (Mayan culture), Guatemala, Kenya, Japan, China, and in New Mexico among the Navajos.

Dr. Brazelton’s descriptions are sensitive and thorough. I learned so much. He concludes “The spectrum of differences in infant behavior or in parents’ ways of handling neonates in these various cultures are valuable to those caring for parents and babies in the United States. Despite individual variations within each culture, the differences . . . point the way to many potential changes in our child-care arrangements and our educational system.”

He is still dispensing well-researched and hard won practical advice. Dr. Brazelton’s Learning to Listen is a must-read for professionals and lay people alike—anyone interested in babies and in parenting.


Janet Levine is a journalist and author of four books including Know Your Parenting Personality: How to Use the Enneagram to Become the Best Parent You Can Be.


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In my last post on this topic I blogged on some aspects of the relationship of writers and editors. For myself I can report that while there is progress with my latest project, a historical novel, it is a vexed adventure. As you can see from the title of this post I have moved on to Phase Three of the process; the search for an agent. From all that I have read over past years and continue to read, almost daily, on the hopeless state of publishing with a “real” publisher (as opposed to plunging into the “new” self-publishing world with an eBook) the majority of writers who are self-published state they would relinquish that process in a heart beat to sign a contract with a publisher.

After much thought I decided to try the “old” road again and find an agent, the gatekeeper to the publishing kingdom, someone who will help me grab the publishing ring. I made this decision because several years ago I took the innovative route with my novel “Leela’s Gift” and found while I enjoyed the experience of producing the book as both easy and satisfactory, as I worked with a self-publishing company, the marketing and publicity process proved expensive and time consuming. In fact so focused on writing and then producing the book I neglected the before publication PR vital to selling the Product. At least with an “old school publisher”  you have a shot at some “before publication” PR.

The back story? My first agent found me after I appeared on the PBS  News Hour in an interview with Judy Woodruff. He was an “old school”, veteran New York agent, and after several fruitless leads found a “home” for my political memoir. The next agent came easily too. She was recommended to my co-author (we were writing a book on the psychology of personality) and she landed us a six-figure deal after sending the proposal to several editors in an “auction.” (The book project failed but that is another story.) This agent stuck with me and helped me secure publishers for my next two books. I felt assured of continued presence in the publishing realm.

Then? Then the publishing world began experiencing volcanic shifts as if its citizens lived on the lower slopes of a Vesuvius in near-constant uproar. Publishers failed to see the consequences heralded by the ramifications of the exploding Information Era and Information Technology Age. One of those ramifications being the democratization of accessibility to knowledge and to those who want to share their inner expressiveness with this vast new wave of readers., whether generator or purveyor of this movement (or both) ruled and continues to rule the universe. Both reviled and praised, Amazon, and a legion of other web-based publishing enterprises, flourish while “real” books wither in the “virtual” Kindle and other reading devices onslaught, and once mighty bookstore chains as well as independent bookstores go the way of dinosaurs. Web-based book clubs and venues for readers to rate and recommend books proliferate…and so?

And so, writers still write books and readers read. Agents still exist, publishers publish (on an ever diminishing scale) what some writers write. Here is the rub, as Shakespeare said.

My agent moved on to other ventures. Finding a new agent is daunting. Several weeks ago I sent out several query letters based on recommendations from some people I know in the broader publishing world. One agent replied within ten minutes and asked me to send the manuscript. Another replied the same day with a similar request. A third asked for the “(in)famous” first three chapters and a synopsis. Could I have a “hot” property? How long will it remain that way? Week after week passed (it was August the “dead” spot of the publishing year) I heard nothing. Yes, during this time I could have self-published the novel…but still something in me wants to honor the “old” process. How much longer do I wait until I send out more query letters? Haven’t I been here before? I am caught in a time warp.


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Apologies to my loyal readers for my lack of blogging activity in past months. Something has to give. Several months ago I began working with an editor on my latest fiction manuscript “Love Affair in the Shadow of Apartheid.” I have worked with many editors after decades of publishing, both as a journalist and book writer, and, thankfully, my current editor is an editor’s editor, in other words — a perfectionist. This means that the first round of reviews is an almost complete rewrite of the novel, paragraph by painstaking paragraph. Possibly if I had known how hard I would be working I may not have taken this on . . . However here we are in the penultimate and then hopefully ultimate  go-around and as my editor says, “It looks like a book now.”

A good editor makes a good writer; what a debt we owe editors. Maxwell Perkins, of Scribners, made the American “greats” of the 1920s and 1930s, well, great. Daphne duMaurier, the hugely popular British novelist of the 1940s and 1950s apparently turned in atrociously written drafts, but they encompassed unsurpassed modern Gothic story lines that her regular editor then turned into gold. There are many other examples of famous writer-editor duos.

With the ever-increasing pressure on writer’s to send agents publishing-ready quality manuscripts or for most writers to have ebook ready manuscripts, the editing business is booming. Daily editors thank Amazon and Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, and all other indie publishing and self-publishing ventures.

But for writers, for the hours and hours — day by day, week after week, month following month, and, often, for the years that go by — writing is a preposterous vocation, avocation, hobby, past-time. I have published four books but I have no idea what will happen to this latest creation. As I have written on this blog previously, publishing is undergoing a seismic shift.

It used to be that a well-written, competent novel would find the mid-list of most of the “big” publishers who wanted the cachet of publishing literary fiction. But now the “literary” tag is almost extinct among the vampires, romances, horrors, mysteries, young adults, chicks’ lit, and other genres. Literary is no longer a genre that is “in”, viable or relevant. And the world of ideas is poorer for this.

In this writer-editor go-around something has surprised me, how patient I have become. I am a Type-A personality, it all has to be done yesterday. But somehow now, possibly knowing that this lovingly nurtured creation so many months and years in gestation, may be still-born, has made the process as precious to me as the product. And that, in itself, perhaps, is truly a good thing.




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In the New York Times October 17, 2011 the following article appeared. I’ve been blogging on this topic for months, and obviously, the future is now here. This is a positive and welcome development for all writers.

Amazon Signs Up Authors, Writing Publishers Out of Deal

Published: October 16, 2011

SEATTLE — has taught readers that they do not need bookstores. Now it is encouraging writers to cast aside their publishers.

Heather Ainsworth for The New York Times

Laurel Saville’s memoir about her mother was self-published at first. It is scheduled to be published by Amazon next month.

Readers’ Comments

Amazon will publish 122 books this fall in an array of genres, in both physical and e-book form. It is a striking acceleration of the retailer’s fledging publishing program that will place Amazon squarely in competition with the New York houses that are also its most prominent suppliers.

It has set up a flagship line run by a publishing veteran, Laurence Kirshbaum, to bring out brand-name fiction and nonfiction. It signed its first deal with the self-help author Tim Ferriss. Last week it announced a memoir by the actress and director Penny Marshall, for which it paid $800,000, a person with direct knowledge of the deal said.

Publishers say Amazon is aggressively wooing some of their top authors. And the company is gnawing away at the services that publishers, critics and agents used to provide.

Several large publishers declined to speak on the record about Amazon’s efforts. “Publishers are terrified and don’t know what to do,” said Dennis Loy Johnson of Melville House, who is known for speaking his mind.

“Everyone’s afraid of Amazon,” said Richard Curtis, a longtime agent who is also an e-book publisher. “If you’re a bookstore, Amazon has been in competition with you for some time. If you’re a publisher, one day you wake up and Amazon is competing with you too. And if you’re an agent, Amazon may be stealing your lunch because it is offering authors the opportunity to publish directly and cut you out.

“It’s an old strategy: divide and conquer,” Mr. Curtis said.

Amazon executives, interviewed at the company’s headquarters here, declined to say how many editors the company employed, or how many books it had under contract. But they played down Amazon’s power and said publishers were in love with their own demise.

“It’s always the end of the world,” said Russell Grandinetti, one of Amazon’s top executives. “You could set your watch on it arriving.”

He pointed out, though, that the landscape was in some ways changing for the first time since Gutenberg invented the modern book nearly 600 years ago. “The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader,” he said. “Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity.”

Amazon has started giving all authors, whether it publishes them or not, direct access to highly coveted Nielsen BookScan sales data, which records how many physical books they are selling in individual markets like Milwaukee or New Orleans. It is introducing the sort of one-on-one communication between authors and their fans that used to happen only on book tours. It made an obscure German historical novel a runaway best seller without a single professional reviewer weighing in.

Publishers caught a glimpse of a future they fear has no role for them late last month when Amazon introduced the Kindle Fire, a tablet for books and other media sold by Amazon. Jeffrey P. Bezos, the company’s chief executive, referred several times to Kindle as “an end-to-end service,” conjuring up a world in which Amazon develops, promotes and delivers the product.

For a sense of how rattled publishers are by Amazon’s foray into their business, consider the case of Kiana Davenport, a Hawaiian writer whose career abruptly derailed last month.

In 2010 Ms. Davenport signed with Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin, for “The Chinese Soldier’s Daughter,” a Civil War love story. She received a $20,000 advance for the book, which was supposed to come out next summer.

If writers have one message drilled into them these days, it is this: hustle yourself. So Ms. Davenport took off the shelf several award-winning short stories she had written 20 years ago and packaged them in an e-book, “Cannibal Nights,” available on Amazon.

When Penguin found out, it went “ballistic,” Ms. Davenport wrote on her blog, accusing her of breaking her contractual promise to avoid competing with it. It wanted “Cannibal Nights” removed from sale and all mentions of it deleted from the Internet.

Ms. Davenport refused, so Penguin canceled her novel and is suing her to recover the advance.

“They’re trying to set an example: If you self-publish and distribute with Amazon, you do so at your own risk,” said Jan Constantine, a lawyer with the Authors Guild who has represented Ms. Davenport.

The writer knows her crime: “Sleeping with the enemy.” Penguin declined to comment.

If some writers are suffering collateral damage, others are benefiting from this new setup. Laurel Saville was locked out by the old system, when New York publishers were the gatekeepers. “I got lots and lots of praise but no takers,” said Ms. Saville, 48, a business writer who lives in Little Falls, N.Y.

Two years ago she decided to pay for the publication of her memoir about her mother’s descent from California beauty queen to street person to murder victim. She spent about $2,200, which yielded sales of 600 copies. Not horrible but far from earth-shaking.

Last fall, Ms. Saville paid $100 to be included in a Publishers Weekly list of self-published writers. The magazine ended up reviewing her memoir, giving it a mixed notice that nevertheless caught the attention of Amazon editors. They sent Ms. Saville an e-mail offering to republish the book. It got an editorial once-over, a new cover and a new title: “Unraveling Anne.” It will be published next month.

Ms. Saville did not get any money upfront, as she would have if a traditional publisher had picked up her memoir. In essence, Amazon has become her partner.

“I assume they want to make a lot of money off the book, which is encouraging to me,” said Ms. Saville, who negotiated her deal without an agent.

Her contract has a clause that forbids her from discussing the details, which is not traditional in publishing. The publicity plans for the book are also secret.

Can Amazon secretly create its own best sellers? “The Hangman’s Daughter” was an e-book hit. Amazon bought the rights to the historical novel by a first-time writer, Oliver Pötzsch, and had it translated from German. It has now sold 250,000 digital copies.

“The great and fascinating thing about Amazon’s publishing program is that there can be these grass-roots phenomena,” said Bruce Nichols of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which republished the novel this summer.

Ms. Saville no longer even contemplates a career with a traditional publisher. “They had their shot,” she said. She is now writing a novel. “My hope is Amazon will think it’s wonderful and we’ll go happily off into the publishing sunset,” she said.

A version of this article appeared in print on October 17, 2011, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Amazon Signing Up Authors, Writing Publishers Out of Deal

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Yesterday I opened a Twitter account @jlevinegrp.

This is a big step. For months now many of my valued blog readers have asked me if I have a Twitter account so they can become a follower. So now I can shout out, “Yes, I do. Hope to connect with you.” Several factors coincided to move me to act now. The first is already stated. I am so grateful to all my blog readers and those who take the time to leave comments on the blogs. One hundred and ten thousand of you in the last three months! Thank you for being so loyal and proactive. Not all the comments make it onto the blogs, maybe I am too discerning a censor? I approve comments from people who use a personal name (as opposed to a business label), I try to catch and trash all the porn and references to porn, and political or other, propaganda. Unfortunately I can’t approve those in a language other than English (I don’t know what they contain) but do approve the occasional comment in French. If someone left a comment in Afrikaans or Dutch, I can respond to those, too.

Secondly, the pressure and temptation to be a member of a social network is overwhelming. I am a social person, I love forging connections, networking, and as I wrote in a previous blog, we live now largely  in a brave new world on a LCD lit screen that we hold on our hands, balance on our laps or spend hours with on our desks. Addiction, did anyone say the word, addiction? This pressure only increased when recently I received an e-mail from an older friend, whom I mentioned in that same blog as being an unlikely kindle owner, asking me to be her friend on Facebook. This was a revelation to me and I decided (as they say) that I had better get with the program.

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“If only there was a cure for unhappiness.”

The other day someone spoke those words to me accompanied by a heartfelt sigh. Unhappiness is a burden we carry at times and it can be debilitating. Is there a cure? It is easier to contemplate the idea that we cause much of our unhappiness by attaching so much energy and attention to the cause—loss, unwelcome change, illness, our own or that of someone we are close to, disappointment and so on—than to change our state of mind about the situation. Yet change our attitude is exactly what we need to do. As Hamlet in the famous Shakespeare play of the same name says, “There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.” Here are some proven “cures.”

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What is Time? Such a seemingly simple question but it can lead to intensely elusive searches for a concept that defies easy answers. Sure we have schedules, and clocks, and calendars based by our ancient forebears on their observations of the wheeling stars and planets. But we also have so many postulations by so many philosophers and cosmologists and various scientists that one’s head can spin from it all. What is Time? Some say Time is a synonym for God. Others that Time is change. Saint Augustine said a thousand years ago, “Intuitively I know what time is, but if you ask me to explain time to you I cannot do so.” What is Time? If all human life disappeared from this planet would Time cease to exist? In other words does our consciousness conceive of Time or does it exist whether we are here or not?

A woman in Soweto, South Africa, a tour guide for a group of harried Americans, wanted to stop at a museum but was asked “Do we have time?” She answered, “I don’t know if you have time. I know you have watches…and I know I have time.”

T.S. Eliot one of the most famous poets of the twentieth century wrote one of his master works The Four Quartets as an exploration into Time. In Burnt Norton, one of the quartets he writes, “Time present and time past/Are both perhaps present in time future/And time future contained in time past./…all time is eternally present…”

All time is eternally present. What you need to know is that Eliot studied Eastern spirituality as an undergraduate at Harvard and had in depth knowledge of the teachings of the Buddha. One of the Buddha’s seminal teachings is that Time is an unceasing succession of transient nanoseconds through which our lives pass and of which passage we need to be aware as our ephemeral future so rapidly becomes our fleeting past. Or in other more colloquial words we need to live in the present moment. Not the past. Not the future. But the present moment. To be truly alive we need to bring all our attention and awareness to every moment of our lives: to our loves, our activities, our preoccupations, our commute, to our emotions, to eating, bathing and on and on. Then perhaps we can begin to understand what Time is and what Time is not.


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